'Wildfire' publication dispels myths about fires in eastern forests

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Many people are unaware of the potential wildfire risk that at times exists in local communities. To increase public understanding of wildfires, experts in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences compiled "Wildfire," a new publication in Penn State Extension's popular From the Woods series.

"Wildfire" -- which focuses on fire in forests of the East -- presents an overview of fires, how to protect your home and property, and the benefits of controlled fires.

"In the coming years invasive insects and disease are expected to attack and kill oak, hemlock and ash trees, which can lead to increased wildfire risk as dead trees and branches build up in wooded areas," said author Laurie Schoonhoven, a project associate in the college's School of Forest Resources.

"The expansion of communities into natural areas adds to the risk of fires spreading from homes to neighboring forested areas or of forest fires endangering people and their homes -- which is when they most often make headlines," she said. "News reports of intense wildfires in the West only add to the confusion and misperceptions about wildfires in the East. Doing your part to understand and prevent wildfires is essential to reducing the risk of damage to your home."

A four-page booklet, "Wildfire" covers the differences between Eastern and Western wildfires -- including the time of year they are mostly likely to occur -- types of wildfires and causes.

"For example, lightning is a common cause of wildfires in Western states but accounts for only 1 percent of fires in Pennsylvania," Schoonhoven said. "The majority -- 98 percent -- of Eastern wildfires are caused by humans, with debris-burning and arson as the leading culprits."

In the East, it's important to remember that not all fires are harmful, Schoonhoven explained. Trained professionals conduct controlled burns as a tool to restore native landscapes and manage vegetation.

"Some trees need or benefit from wildfires," she said. "For example, oaks have been shown to respond favorably after fires. Purposely set, controlled burns are a tool of forest management. The publication gives an overview of their use."

Additional information on wildfire prevention, safe debris-burning and alternatives to debris-burning are available through your local Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry office. To find your local Bureau of Forestry office, visit this website.

Single copies of "Wildfires" can be obtained free of charge by Pennsylvania residents through county Penn State Extension offices, or by contacting the College of Agricultural Sciences Publications Distribution Center at 814-865-6713 or by email at AgPubsDist@psu.edu. For cost information on out-of-state or bulk orders, contact the Publications Distribution Center.

The Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program provides publications on a variety of topics related to woodland management. For a list of free publications, call toll-free 800-234-9473, send an email to RNRext@psu.edu, or write to Forest Stewardship Program, Forest Resources Extension, The Pennsylvania State University, 416 Forest Resources Building, University Park, PA 16802.

The Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry and USDA Forest Service, in Partnership with Penn State's Forest Resources Extension, sponsor the Forest Stewardship Program in Pennsylvania.

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Last Updated August 11, 2011